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Sex Work

Making The Rules: How Sex Work Helped Me Reclaim Agency In My Relationships

"[We] are often conditioned to... push ourselves further and further out of our comfort zone in the hopes men will like us more. In sex work, I never did this. If I wasn’t comfortable with something, I didn’t do it." Graci Love discusses self-discovery through the lens of sex work.

By Graci Love.

Photo by Lauren Crow.

Like many people wading through their young adult life, I felt depressed, unhappy, and unfulfilled in my relationship during my “Saturn Return.” I felt disconnected from everyone, including myself and my body. I contemplated suicide. Change became inevitable because I literally couldn’t stay in the same position; I just wanted to find contentment in my life.

So here’s my truth: it was sex work that allowed me to feel confident and empowered and to put my feelings and comfort first — in life, in work, and especially in dating men.

I reached out to a therapist, broke up with my boyfriend, and cut people and things out of my life that weren’t serving me (“snip, snip, bitch” became my new motto). A few friends started to explore sex work — either stripping or on sites like What’s Your Price or Seeking Arrangements (SA) — and I found inspiration in Jacq the Strippers’ book about empowerment in sex work. These factors, mixed with the fact that I was working in a women’s clinic and was fucking broke, led me to try sex work as a second job.

Sex work allowed me to feel confident and empowered and to put my feelings and comfort first — in life, in work, and especially in dating men.

Seeking Arrangements immediately stood out as my favorite; it took more time and the payout wasn’t immediate, but I preferred seeing someone consistently. You don’t usually get paid for the first date, besides a free meal, but you vibe one another out, chat, flirt and then get down to business. At first, this part was incredibly uncomfortable for me. I had to challenge the notion of how much my time and energy were worth. I already struggled with my self worth due to my depression and my ex immediately dating/living with his best friend, so if someone wouldn’t date me for free, why would someone want to pay to be with me? But I gave myself daily affirmations about my beauty, my worth, and my general badassery, and played on my strong attributes.

I had to challenge the notion of how much my time and energy were worth.

I’ve been an advocate for reproductive justice and survivors of domestic violence for almost a decade, so I felt confident about my skills in listening, empathizing and engaging with someone to help them feel relaxed. Plus, these men wanted me and they clearly wanted to give me their money. So why not fake it till I made it?

I had been telling myself positive affirmations to battle my depression in the hopes of one day believing them, until I finally did. Setting a price before my date proved the most helpful in convincing myself of my worth. My therapist encouraged me: she asked me how I wanted to use the money, and let that guide my number. My price started off conservative, but she challenged me to demand more, and stop asking for scraps. I wanted financial security but also wanted to enjoy massages, organic food and shopping. I had my price and my confidence up, so the time had come to negotiate and embody that sexy saleswoman.

The most important part of the process was setting the foundation of needs and expectations in the first meeting. It made me feel comfortable and empowered, and as time went on I realized these feelings had integrated into my regular life. I started each date by asking what the guy wanted; expectations, amount of time, etc. It opened the door to have a very frank discussion about our lives (though I did hide personal information for safety concerns), sex, and money. Then we decided if one another’s proposals lined up. A few times they didn’t match, and our meal ended with mutual respect. And if we both agreed, then we’d already laid down the fundamentals of our working relationship. That first conversation set the tone for open communication about desires and boundaries. There was no need to lie about anything moving forward because we started from a place of non-judgment and honesty.

The most important part of the process was setting the foundation of needs and expectations in the first meeting. It made me feel comfortable and empowered, and as time went on I realized these feelings had integrated into my regular life.

Soon I started to question why I couldn’t date this way outside of work. Anytime I tried to be honest about my feelings, men would be assholes. Since I started having sex as a teen, I had always put men’s needs, wants, and pleasure before my own. Women are often conditioned to be in competition with other women, to seem likable to men, to push ourselves further and further out of our comfort zone in the hopes men will like us more. In sex work, I never did this. If I wasn’t comfortable with something I didn’t do it. I had it in my head that this man was paying me, wanted me, believed I was so amazing that he wanted to spend thousands of dollars on ME, so therefore, I could make the rules. I needed to figure out how to transfer this same thinking to dating without money in the equation (well, almost — no more dating broke-ass men). With the help of my therapist and so many inspiring women around me, I finally experienced organic thoughts of “I’m fucking amazing, if any man doesn’t think that then he’s not worth my time.” This confidence gave me my voice when it came to boundaries in sex work and in my sex life.

Dating still baffles me, or rather men do, but if I approach it from a place of comfort then it makes it really easy to throw out all of the trash that makes me feel uncomfortable. I finally feel like I’m in a place to accept and give love in an honest and open way, and that I deserve that kind of love. I don’t want to compromise myself any longer by not honoring my worth. I am now unapologetically honest about my feelings, desires, wants, needs, and fears with someone from the very beginning. And I expect the same from them.

Graci is involved in the reproductive justice movement in Texas. She’s a sex worker, social worker, budding herbalist, and is really just trying to figure shit out. Her dog, Wrigley, is the only man she respects.

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